Choreography for Arnold Schoenberg's Transfigured Night

Choreography for Arnold Schoenberg's Transfigured Night

Verklaerte Nacht (Transfigured Night), Op. 4 (1899)
Arnold Schoenberg
(b. Vienna, 1874 – d. Los Angeles, 1951)

New choreography by: Donald Byrd

"One of the nation's most daring dance choreographers" -Seattle Times

“I create the sense of a beautiful starry night, like Van Gogh’s famous painting,” he explains, “and the choreography is soft and impressionistic. There’s a nod to Tudor in using the music as a manifestation of what’s going on internally, but I’ve added some surprises, some things that will make you sit up a bit.”

- Donald Byrd, Spectrum Dance Theater

World Premiere date:
Sunday, November 9, 2014 - 4:00pm
Benaroya Hall
In commemoration of the 76th anniversary of Kristallnacht

Program notes:
In 2001, the English critic Norman Lebrecht wrote: “It is a measure of the man’s immensity of achievement that, 50 years after his death, he can still empty any hall on earth. Arnold Schoenberg is box office poison. Put his music on a programme and the patrons will abscond or riot, just as they did at the premiere of the Verklaerte Nacht sextet in February 1902 when Schoenberg's big brother, Heinrich, had to eject the disrupters.” If audience members at that premiere were shocked by what they heard, the work has become a broadly popular composition. In contrast to the radical tonal structures that frighten people away from many works that followed a mere dozen years later, Verklaerte Nacht’s lush post-Romantic language is more likely to remind today’s listeners of Brahms’ and Wagner’s influence on the young Schoenberg.

Besides reacting to the music, it’s possible that elements of proper Viennese society at the start of the 20th century were also scandalized by the frank eroticism of Richard Dehmel’s poem that inspired Schoenberg and lent its title to this programmatic work. In the poem, a man and woman walk together in a moonlit forest. The woman confesses that she is carrying a child that she conceived before meeting the man, and she speaks explicitly of how she yielded to desires for which she believes she’s now being punished. The man reflects, then vows to the woman that through their transformative love the child will be his.

Schoenberg originally scored Verklaerte Nacht for string sextet, and in 1917 he created a string orchestra arrangement that is often performed today. The music has been the basis for several ballets, and this evening we present it with new choreography that MOR has commissioned from the brilliant Donald Byrd of Seattle’s Spectrum Dance Theater.

A year before beginning work on Verklaerte Nacht, Schoenberg converted from Judaism and was baptized as an Austrian Lutheran. However, he never renounced his identity as a Jew, and he had a remarkably prescient vision of the catastrophe that would soon engulf Europe. In 1923 – ten years before Hitler became Chancellor – Schoenberg wrote in a letter to Wassily Kandinsky after hearing that the painter and his fellow Bauhaus artists had expressed anti-Semitic thoughts:

“But what is anti-Semitism to lead to if not to acts of violence? Is it so difficult to imagine that? You are perhaps satisfied with depriving Jews of their civil rights. Then certainly Einstein, Mahler, I and many others, will have been got rid of. Butone thing is certain: they will not be able to exterminate those much tougher elements thanks to whose endurance Jewry has maintained itself unaided against the whole of mankind for 20 centuries. For these are evidently so constituted that they can accomplish the task that their God has imposed on them: to survive in exile,
uncorrupted and unbroken, until the hour of salvation comes!”

Within months after Hitler took power in 1933, Schoenberg left his post at the Prussian Academy of Fine Arts in Berlin and moved to Paris, where he reconverted to Judaism. The rabbi’s certificate of Schoenberg’s declaration was witnessed by Albert Einstein’s stepson-in-law and by Marc Chagall. Later that year Schoenberg sailed to New York, and in 1934 settled in California, where he found a teaching position at UCLA. Anguished over the dire situation of European Jews, Schoenberg urgently sought a role in their rescue and became a passionate advocate for Jewish political unity and the creation of a Jewish state. His 1947 A Survivor from Warsaw is a harrowing account of Nazi terrors. Late choral works like Three Times in a Thousand Years and the incomplete Israel Exists Again express appreciation for the miracle of a Jewish homeland.